Why does Craigslist need saving?

Last week our Capstone groups and project were assigned. We will be developing a cross-platform app to help improve the concept of Craigslist. As I’ve spent time researching possible technologies to use, I keep asking myself, “what happened to Craigslist?”

I wouldn’t consider myself an active user of Craigslist. Still, back in the mid-2000s, when I was working on my first bachelor’s degree, Craigslist was the best way for a broke college student to furnish their room. I also found and adopted, Zoey the first dog I raised as an adult, through a local shelter’s foster program. My personal experience using Craigslist has been positive! I felt it necessary to do a little research on Craiglist’s history and learn more about their competitors.

The Craigslist controversy:

Before I continue, let’s acknowledge a common sentiment regarding transactions on Craigslist; be careful! That was a valid concern even in Craigslist’s early days, given the anonymity of listings. Craigslist’s free and straightforward community service hoped to bring out the best from people. But with limited or no moderating, scammers could create listings and successfully deceive a buyer with no consequence.

One interesting fact that I don’t think is well known is that Craigslist is a private for-profit company.[1] As they expanded to cover more cities and countries, they kept their same ideals and simplistic website design. They refused to profit from ads and other marketing strategies and dismissed outside developers looking to collaborate on new features.[2] With millions of users on their site, it’s not surprising to learn that Craigslist has faced numerous legal battles. The most controversial was their personals category, which they shut down after the FOSTA-SESTA bill was passed into law in 2018.[1]

Who is the competition?

Facebook Marketplace:

I admittedly don’t use Facebook often and have never used their marketplace. I can imagine the appeal of connecting to people through Facebook. Users can view the profiles of potential buyers or sellers, which takes away some of the concerns users of Craigslist face.

As I browsed through listings on Facebook Marketplace, it didn’t feel like a local community classifieds website. Even with my location filter set, I see more sponsored ads and listings from businesses than individuals. If I wanted to find something to buy, I wouldn’t enjoy sifting through ads, and I bet sellers have a difficult time connecting with buyers as well.

Shifting towards cross-platform solutions:

OfferUp and Mercari are Craigslist competitors that chose to pursue the rising popularity of mobile devices to create cross-platform apps.

Mercari is a Japanese company that became Japan’s largest community-powered marketplace.[3] They have expanded to the U.S. and have gained a small foothold. They also have developed a shipping protocol to allow users to explore beyond their local community.

OfferUp, located in Bellevue, Washington, is similar to Mercari but focuses more on safety concerns. OfferUp created user profiles with detailed rating systems to help hesitant buyers. They also formed partnerships with local police stations and businesses to give their users well-monitored places to meet for transactions.[4]

So how can I improve Craigslist?

If you visit Craigslist now, you won’t see anything new. Select a category or search for an item; you will encounter an unorganized mess of posts and come across obvious spam that hasn’t been flagged by a user or removed by a Craigslist employee. Developing a user profile with a rating system would significantly decrease spam and provide a more personal touch to users conducting transactions. Developing a more intelligent search algorithm and creating a modern UI will also be beneficial.

As Craigslist’s competitors have done, making a mobile app in addition to a website will appeal to a broader audience. However, those apps exist to profit from their user base. I think Craigslist has the right idea about not profiting from its users. I will need to research frameworks and free database and hosting services to keep my project free to use and free from ads.